September 2011 - Vol. 52..

The Truth of All Things
a philosophical inquiry by Josef Pieper
If you study any philosophical treatise of our present era you will with almost absolute certainty not encounter the concept, and much less the expression, “the truth of all things.” This is no mere accident. The generally prevailing philosophical thinking of our time has no room at all for this concept; it is, as it were, “not provided for.” It makes sense to speak of truth with regard to thoughts, ideas, statements, opinions—but not with regard to things. Our judgments regarding reality may be true (or false); but to label as “true” reality itself, the “things,” appears to be rather meaningless, mere nonsense. Things are real, not “true”! 

Looking at the historical development of this situation, we find that there is much more to it than the simple fact of a certain concept or expression not being used; we find not merely the “neutral” absence, as it were, of a certain way of thinking. No, the nonuse and absence of the concept, “the truth of all things,” is rather the result of a long process of biased discrimination and suppression or, to use a less aggressive term: of elimination.

[Originally published as, "Wahrheit der Dinge—ein verschollener Begriff” in Festschrift für Leo Brandt (Köln-Opladen: Westdeutscher-Verlag, 1969). Translated by Lothar Krauth.]

Things can be known because they are created

The fundamental statement about the “truth of all things” is found in St. Thomas [Aquinas]’ Questiones disputatae de veritate; it reads: res naturalis inter duos intellects constituta (est); whatever is real in nature is placed between two knowing agents, namely – so the text continues – between the intellectus divinus [God’s mind] and the intellectus humanus [human mind]. 

These “coordinates” place all reality between the absolutely creative, inventive knowledge of God and the imitating, “informed” knowledge of us humans and thus present the total realm of reality as a structure of interwoven original and reproduced conceptions. 

Based on this twofold orientation of all things – so Thomas continues his reasoning – the concept of the “truth of all things” is also twofold: first, it means “thought by God”; second, it means “knowable to the human mind.” The statement, “All things are true,” would therefore mean, on one hand, that all things are known by God in the act of creation and, on the other hand, that all things are by their nature accessible and comprehensible to the human mind. 

All things can be known by us because they spring from God’s thought. Because they originated in God’s mind, things have not only their specific essence in themselves and for themselves, but precisely because they originated in God’s mind, things have as well an essence “for us.” All things are intelligible, translucent, clear and open because they are created by God’s thought, and for this reason they are essentially spirit related. The clarity and lucidity that flows from God’s knowledge into things, together with their very being (more correctly: as their very being) – this lucidity alone makes all things knowable for the human mind. St. Thomas, in a commentary on Scripture, remarks: “A thing has exactly as much light as it has reality.” And in one of his late works, in his commentary on the Liber de causis, we find a profound statement that expresses the same thought in almost mystical terms: ipsa actualitas rei est quoddam lumen ipsius; “the reality of a thing is itself its light”– and “reality” is understood here as “being created”! It is precisely this “light” that makes a thing visible to our eyes. In short: things can be known because they are created.

[Originally published in Unaustrinkbares Licht (Munich: Kösel-Verlag, 1963). Translated by Lothar Krauth.]

Excerpts from Josef Pieper: An Anthology, © 1989 Ignatius Press, San Francisco. Used with permission.

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German Catholic philosopher and noted author. Among his most notable works are The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance
Leisure: the Basis of Culture
The Philosophical Act; and 
Guide to Thomas Aquinas (published in England as Introduction to Thomas Aquinas). He translated into German The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis.

Pieper died at the age of ninety-three on November 6, 1997. In a tribute entitled "A Philosopher of Virtue," published in First Things, Gilbert Meilaender summarized some of Pieper’s core principles:
Pieper emphasizes the close connection between moral and intellectual virtue. Our minds do not – contrary to many views currently popular – create truth. Rather, they must be conformed to the truth of things given in creation. And such conformity is possible only as the moral virtues become deeply embedded in our character, a slow and halting process. 

We have, he writes on one occasion, "lost the awareness of the close bond that links the knowing of truth to the condition of purity." That is, in order to know the truth we must become persons of a certain sort. The full transformation of character that we need will, in fact, finally require the virtues of faith, hope, and love. And this transformation will not necessarily – perhaps not often – be experienced by us as easy or painless. Hence the transformation of self that we must – by God’s grace – undergo "perhaps resembles passing through something akin to dying."

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